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Joan Weber on Creativity Expert Sir Ken Robinson

Betty Ray

Senior Editor at Large
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Editor's Note: This week's guest blogger is Joan Weber, the facilitator for Edutopia's Arts/Music/Drama group and moderator of the weekly #artsed chat on Twitter. Her post this week covers the highlights of that chat.

Sir Ken Robinson is an international expert in creativity and education. He rose to public prominence with the publication of his book Out of Our Minds and, especially, his very popular 2006 TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? Sir Ken's message is that our schools were built to educate a population in the middle of the industrial revolution. Today's world is nothing like that world, but our school system has not moved to catch up. Sir Ken recently published The Element, in which he describes how we should all aspire in our professional careers to that place where our passions meet our talents.

On April 15th, Sir Ken was kind enough to join the #artsed chat on Twitter. He is a strong proponent of arts education as a clear-cut path to keeping creativity alive in students. His most recent TED Talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution, was just published online . In this talk, he argues that we need a revolution against "the tyranny of common sense" that guides education right now, the idea that we must continue doing the same thing because that's how we do it. We must "disenthrall" ourselves from these ideas of the 19th century.

This revolution is based in the digital culture so Sir Ken joined the #artsed chat to discuss arts education and the digital culture. Ironically, the Twitter technology could not keep up with our discussion. There were many frustrating moments, but Sir Ken and we muddled through well enough.

@SirKenRobinson: Convincing schools about digital culture is a generational shift. Most kids get it already. Many but not all teachers do.

We talked about how students can be empowered to be the teachers when it comes to technology. The benefits are multi-faceted: classroom leadership, increased technology, different relationship with teacher. He offered up another metaphor of "nativists" vs "immigrants" to the digital culture.

@SirKenRobinson: In the history of immigrant communities, it's often the children who teach the adults about the new culture.

Perhaps because of that generational or experiential divide between the "nativists" and the "immigrants," we are facing a bit of a challenge addressing it. Things that an older, less digital generation may find a bad thing, like too much time on the computer, may be like rock and roll. It's not going anywhere. Sir Ken recommended this article on how much kids are learning when they're on the internet.

@SirKenRobinson: Interesting piece to send to parents

The chat turned directions when Sir Ken brought the conversation around to arts education's place in the digital culture.

@SirKenRobinson: A big question is what the rapid evolution of digital technologies means for the definition and practice of the arts. What are the arts now?

@SirKenRobinson: Sir Ken uses language very well. I especially liked in this portion of the chat when he discussed a new role for teachers as "curators/mentors." I like the idea of looking at teachers as "curators" of the knowledge available to students. And, we are because we can synthesize the infinite amount of information available to us digitally and sift it and sculpt it for our students. We can facilitate learning electronically. We can broadcast our students' accomplishments to the world digitally. And, we can bring the world into our rooms.

The arts, we discussed, are driven by changes in technology. We are the early-adopters. Arts education needs to be leaders in this revolution.

Many thanks to Sir Ken Robinson for the generous donation of his time on a late Thursday afternoon in California. He had a crash course in Twitter over the evening, struggling through multiple outages. But he persevered. He is learning the poetic form that is Twitter, though he may not call it "poetry" just yet.

@SirKenRobinson: Thanks everyone. This was interesting and chaotic too. Digital culture is at least encouraging the new art of the soundbite!

Please join the #ArtsEd chat on Twitter every Thursday evening at 7pm ET/ 4pm PT.

Joan Weber has spent the 20 years working in arts education and education with an emphasis on Currently, Joan serves as adjunct faculty at Howard Community College, where she teaches arts appreciation. She also serves as an adjunct professor with Towson University Arts Integration Institute, a graduate professional certificate program for teachers. Through this program, Joan teaches Drama Integration and is a mentor for graduating students in their Capstone project. Also a principal at Creativity & Associates, Joan is responsible for the education division. She can also be found on Twitter as @creativityassoc

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vdegraff's picture

Re: "In the history of immigrant communities, it's often the children who teach the adults about the new culture." Wow. And how has that worked out?
According to Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld (Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers), immigrant children who are placed this way into a flipped situation where they become alpha to their parents, end up looking to peers for guidance, and not to their ultimate advantage. This is a social phenomenon we definately do not want to emulate.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Thank you
Betty Ray and Joan Weber.
I am running out tomorrow to buy Sir Ken's Book!

I still cannot get into Twitter. It is too complicated to even write to you. I will go find an 11 year old at the local coffee shop. I am sure they can help me!!

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Senior Editor at Large

LOL @Carol. I'm working on a primer for how to use Twitter for those who want to run screaming when they hear the word. Hopefully this will help!

And @vdegraff: You raise a good point, though there are elements (like learning a new language) that could be beneficial. One doesn't have to look to children for leadership in all aspects of the new culture; just the ones where their language or technology skills are useful.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

My Principal and I just had one of those discussions in which she told me the Arts Elective I am teaching will probably be cut. This is of course a heartbreak after all the work and effort and my best class. The right brain children have seen the best of themselves and they have had a huge burst of ego. This is, of course, in a school where the arts do not matter anyhow, and I have only the principal to thank for its long over-due run. However, the long term affect is on the student population and their loss because as Sir Ken as so well said our future generations will never know who they are since we are, since we have killed creativity and are wasting human talent. Even more I feel our children are robots and are punching computers to get answers on Accelerated Reader. We are not introducing them to the beautiful parts of life like drawing and painting and the beauty of the silver screen. The silver screen they relate to is porno, X-Box and video games.

Our children deserve to have all the Visual Arts in their lives. They will never know unless this is a huge part of the cirriculum. There are many paths to learning and taking away creative and enjoyable paths which are essential is going to have a lasting and profound impact on all of us. I am afraid it will all be too late when people wake up. There have been so many warnings. How many more brilliant researchers do we need to tell us?

Ann Weber's picture

For a long time I taught a course called Exploration of Ideas in Imagery, which covered imagery in art, music, and literature. It was developed to be a required introduction to humanities for all students at a community college, but of course, the "practical" people eventually changed it to an elective. I continued to teach the course as a department of one after all the others who had accepted released time training to teach it had opted out. When I retired, so did the course. Teaching it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. Studying imagery as an alternative way of knowing expands and enriches the educational experiences of students and adds meaning to their lives. We need to convince the practical people in education at all levels that providing students with experiences in the arts is not a peripheral activity but central to true education.

Gretchen's picture

I've been watching TED episodes, especially those of Sir Robinson, as a way to continue and develop my own ideas about teaching. I think it is time to join the Twitter crowd, to continue accessing interesting and inspiring ideas about potential futures in education!

Gordon Otto's picture

Enjoyed the privilege of attending the Art of Marketing conference this week in Calgary, and the privilege of listening to and briefly meeting afterward Sir Ken Robinson.

In his talk this week, Sir Ken described studies on creativity (described within his book, The Element, as well, he advised me afterward) aimed at determining at what age people are at their "most creative". The study focused on testing abilities at "divergent thinking"... the ability to see lots of possible connections... not taking things for granted... asking new questions... thinking "outside the box"... thinking beyond the question to more/better/different questions...

Here were the findings he quoted:

Among 1500 children aged 3-5 years old, 98% rated "genius" in divergent thinking.

Among those SAME children years later at the ages of 8-10 years old, only 32% rated "genius".

Among those same children years after that at the ages of 13-15 years old, only 10% rated "genius".

Sir Ken Robinson then said "at this point, they've become 'educated'..."


P.S. Sir Ken further advised that in similar testing done on a sampling of 200,000 people aged 25+, only 2% rate "genius" in divergent thinking.

Imagine if schooling preserved creativity, instead of scratching it away...

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